Opening Conversation – Animating Life: The Art, Science, and Wonder of LAIKA

Opening Conversation – Animating Life: The Art, Science, and Wonder of LAIKA


when you walk down the halls of LAIKA
and you enter any set of curtains what you enter into is always gonna be a
complete surprise it’s gonna be completely different it is absolutely true that every new
movie that we make gets that bit more ambitious we want to make films that
push this medium that we love animation that push at new directions and we’re
moving in directions that stop-motion animation doesn’t normally go in and so
every film demands something new but everyone’s up for the challenge
we’ve got a brain trust of brilliant creatives here we have people who are
sculpting puppets we have people who are making sets we have people who are
animating all day long and I think that’s what was cool about this place is
it’s this tactile Wonderland to do it practically in camera is
something we try to do as much as possible
but at the same time we bring cutting-edge technology into the process
whether it’s science or innovation it’s worth the risk sometimes to go out on
the limb and with each successive film we all work and grow as artists we’d
really wanted to find a way to push facial animation beyond what we’d ever
done before and the subtlety and range of emotion you get totally transformed
into the story and you forget that you’re watching a little 12-inch puppet
these hands on it’s tactile there’s a life to it that most of the animation
forms don’t have anymore we’re a group of really talented artists
who want to do it the best that we can you’re LAIKA – the energy the the
atmosphere just really crackles with that creativity we don’t have to be
limited in the stories that we tell that’s what’s exciting about the studio it feels like we really are just
scratching the surface of what this art form can do and that’s incredibly
exciting to me well welcome everyone I’m so happy
you’re able to join us today I’m Brian Ferriso the director of the Museum here
and this has been a long journey to get to this day and I think to this opening
weekend for this exhibition the conversation between LAIKA and the
Portland Art Museum started in 2009 actually when LAIKA featured their film
Coraline for the first time and it was at the Schnitzer hall and we had the
opening festivities here and I walked into the room where we had some of the
the maquettes and the puppets and I went oh my goodness this is an art form that
really needs to be featured here at the museum and since then it’s been a nice
discussion we’ve had with them and a journey through time and I think with
their 10-year anniversary anniversary recently and then the wealth of work and
the the portfolio that has been developed by this incredible team that
you’ll hear from has really given us an a great opportunity to celebrate this
art form and I say art form because on many ways I believe LAIKA distinguishes
its its work through its sense of humanity the ability to really show the
imperfection but also have storytelling that takes us on a journey that really
reflects I think what it means to live today in the 21st century so it’s very
special for us to feature this exhibition also it’s an opportunity for
this museum and I’ve said it before to really embrace the creative energy of
our community. Oregon, Portland the region this museum is really about
celebrating who we are as Oregonians and people who live in the Northwest and I
can think of a better creative force than like to emphasize that and to
reveal that to the world we have a mission of bringing the world to Oregon
but also Oregon to the world and I think this exhibition does that in a very
beautiful way it’s also a great opportunity for us to reflect on the
museum’s Northwest Film Center it’s an important entity that was founded in
1971 the film Center has really galvanized the film community and also
created something very very special personally I’m very grateful to Bill
Foster the director who’s led that for over 40 years so a big thanks to Bill
and the Northwest Film Center and his entire team they worked tirelessly on
behalf of this community in this Institute
I also want to give a very special thanks you saw Travis night Travis
obviously a leader of this but also a number of people on his team and there’s
too many to name but there’s a few that I interacted with specifically and in
particular the new CFO Brad wold rosemary Colliver has been a great
advocate mark Shapiro I think many of you know him dan Pascal and Martin
Pelham both have given me an hour my museum great guidance so a big thanks to
them and then optimist was the designer of the exhibition I think of many of
you’ve been through it you really took advantage of what it means to be in an
art museum celebrating this beautiful art form the craft and they think they
delivered in a very articulate way to show the beauty of the art that we are
all experiencing through these films on my team there’s Don Burkhardt
Matthew juniper and Michael Smith who again partnered with what we’re calling
the dream team of installation conceptual ideas because this exhibition
at this scale has never been done before so we really needed to start thinking
deeply about bringing it to life and I think they’ve done it beautifully we
also have a number of sponsors you know this museum is privately supported for
the public good and every every dollar counts and I owe a big thanks to Phil
and Penny Knight who are elite sponsors we also have a number of exhibition
supporters listed on the wall all very important I think you saw some lists
before but I want to call out a few more in particular Helen Jo and Bill witzel
both of those trustees of this museum Ameriprise Financial and Columbia
Threadneedle the Clark Foundation KinderCare also very important stole
reeves US bank and US bank foundation all contributed to this exhibition in
particular a big thanks to them now it gives me great pleasure to introduce our
moderator who also served as our my curatorial adviser for this project and
that’s Rose bond Rose is an associate professor and lead faculty member in
animated arts at the Pacific Northwest College of Art she has been
internationally recognized for her monumental content-driven animated
installations which have illuminated urban spaces in Portland Zagreb Toronto
Exeter UK Utrecht Netherlands and New York City among others roses animation
films have been presented in major international film centers including in
Annecy Ottawa Hiroshima Sundance and New York and her work is held at the MoMA
film collection in their collection archives in 2016
Rose was awarded the Oregon Media Arts fellowship and premiered a new multi
channeled projection for the Oregon symphony in association with messy ends
to wrangle ela it was a wonderful display of her craft and in remarkable
artistry I hope some of you were able to see it she received her MFA in
experimental filmmaking from the school of the Art Institute of Chicago and as I
mentioned she has served beautifully as our curatorial adviser for this
exhibition it gives me a great pleasure to welcome Rose Bond to the stage thank you I’m glad to see you all here how many
people here have seen the exhibition just raise your hand yeah pretty a lot
of you okay it is my pleasure to be here and this first conversation so keep your
eyes out there’s going to be other opportunities to engage with the artists
of like as this shows stays on at Portland Art Museum but right now I’d
like to just bring up the animators crafts people technical wonders from
like yeah welcome alright so we’ll start I’m gonna do here’s how it’s gonna go
I’m gonna do a really brief introduction and I’m gonna ask a couple questions but
really we want to open this thing up so your questions we know that we’ve
probably got some ultra fans here and we have some very knowledgeable people in
Portland about animation and specifically about stop-motion animation
Portland is on the map as an animator myself I know that it wouldn’t people
when I go to festivals whatever when they talk about stop-motion they’re
talking about Bristol or Portland so how did we get here what sigh you know so
hopefully a lot of that will be revealed the show is extraordinary and I feel so
privileged to have been involved and to have offered what I can to place this
work in a larger cultural and artistic place so to begin with I want to
introduce Ollie Jones at the far end there
Ollie is the animation rigging supervisor he’s headed up the rigging on
all of Lycus features here and his master an art degree from the famed
animation department at the Royal College of Art yes and recently yeah oh
we got some RCA fans good recently Ollie was nominated for an
Oscar and visual effects effects for his work on Kubo and the two strings so
welcome Deb Deborah cook costume designer yeah yeah
uh-huh yeah all right you see that right you see that Deb has been around since
like us beginning and has been a key player on all four feature films she
credits her fine art sculpture background at London’s central st.
Martin as providing her with the opportunity to innovate in unchartered
creative waters which as I think where Lika finds itself most of the time so
really happy to have you here there Brian Brian come’s brian McKean comes
with a background in sculpture he’s been writing I don’t know if that’s the right
word do you ride the leading edge or sort of like I don’t know the metaphor
because it seems like he’s leading the wave in 3d printing or rapid prototyping
he joined like a for Coraline and he’s been instrumental in developing the kind
of facial animation and you see his work and the work of others shining on that
wall of faces all right Georgina creative supervisor and head of public
fabrication has been a key player at like from the start she hails from the
UK you’re gonna hear a lot of British accents remember when I said Bristol
Portland okay London she was came with a lot of experience in
London from short-shorts commercials she worked for MacKinnon and Saunders which
is a kind of premier puppet puppet company also worked in features
including my favorite Mars attack and the corpse bride before coming to
Portland and and being a mainstay at Leica and finally Brad Schiff Brad is
the animation supervisor on Kubo box Charles and
ParaNorman however for those people who’ve been around for a while Brad cut
his teeth here on PJs and Gary and Mike remember that yeah let’s hear it all
right and we’ll here let maybe we’ll hear a
little bit more about that but he’s animated on just about every
oscar-nominated feature from corpse bride to Coraline – fantastic mr. Fox
and just so you know to do the animation for Kubo there were 70 sets that’s 77 0
set how do you supervise that well alright so let’s let’s begin I’m not
quite sure where to start so I’m gonna just shuffle these cards okay Brad leica
has a massive warehouse and by the way it’s so nondescript
that you would never ever know where it is in Hillsboro but it does have those
70 sets for Kubo’s so talk to us a little bit but what does it mean to be
like an animation supervisor and maybe just sort of specifically what are the
challenges involved in that oh my gosh it’s the building it is it’s a totally
unassuming building in the middle of Hillsboro there’s no science no anything
it’s just a big yeah box and and and it’s massive and the whole place is
filled with with sets and each set is divided by big black curtains and you
know for each one of these films we have a team of 35 animators at its peak and
we try to get animator get each a animator a bounce unit so to be as
efficient as we can we try to get that animator that’s shooting and when they
finish that shot while they’re waiting instead of sitting around waiting to for
the set to for the camera to be moved the set to be redressed
/ and they’ll animate on another on another set and you know the biggest
challenge I think always when you’re animating something of this or
supervising something of this scope is you know you have 35 different animators
and the real trick is to try to make sure that it feels like it comes from
one set of hands and I think that that’s always the you know the hardest the
hardest part yeah great Ollie I’m gonna jump down to you and
again these are sort of warm-up questions
so you’re the rigger okay yeah I wanna I want to ask you how did your background
at RCA which is gonna known isn’t like a fine art animation program how did that
play into like where you ended up and what you do it like and now well there
was when I was at the RCA there was two people that were studying stop-motion
one of them was myself and the other one was Malcolm in a month and we both ended
up at like ER so that’s there’s a pretty good Thoroughbred just there and what we
were really trying to do he was in one room and I was in the next unit much
like the same way that Brad was talking about we just had a curtain between us
and he was concentrating on character animation and I was doing more kind of
special effects stuff more kind of mechanical making sets and I was comping
characters into those sets so there was like a definite lineage between what I
was trying to do or trying being the main word they’re trying to do at
college and then something that we was eventually doing in the in the studio as
well so it’s you know anime just just so you know animating rigging is these guys
they vary they can stand up on their own but they can’t leave they can’t jump we
have to hold them up mechanically in space so we build the apparatus that
holds and then pushes them through space and through the animator is then using a
series of winders or gears to float the animators around so we kind of like an
old-fashioned kind of special effects department yeah old-fashioned but also
really real objects and not just digital yeah yeah real objects real things real
tactile yeah so we it’s you know it’s an engineering based medium I’m going to
move on to you Deborah you also list on your bio that
you have a fine art background and graduated in sculpture and you talk
about though you something about that that background prepared you I mean
let’s face it who gets prepared to knit a tiny sweater I think so I went to
Saint Martins and I did sculpture but it was also in the same building where the
fashion degree was happening so also fine art painting and film so all of
those disciplines played into the kind of work and the access that I had to be
creative so I built a lot of installation work around abstract
figurative work on costume pieces that I put myself in so I was building
environments around costume worked it was full scale but also had a lot of
detailed elements that involved other mediums like attaching photos using film
some aspirational stop frame work that I didn’t actually realize what I was doing
at the time and that’s that’s even existed when I was trying to create
those pieces of work so learning different properties of materials like
working with silicones working with fabrics working with upholestry even and
abstracting figurative work really helps give me the basis to learn all of those
materials that face it you know eventually just let me here I’m gonna
follow up on Georgina not call you George the animation I think if you look
at the long scope of it that there are certain eras there are certain studios
that kind of come to into their own and I’m thinking you know back back to the
Zagreb school or I think of George pal and the puppet UN’s or I think of Juri
trinka and the sort of that Eastern European kind of kind of whatever and
then of course in the UK I think of aardman I remember going to Anna
see and seeing they always have the films they have the features but they
have the adverts the advertisements and I remember seeing like most of these
what we call commercials here of so many of them at that time I think this is a
90’s or whatever we’re done in the UK and they were stop-motion could you talk
a little bit about sort of what what grows that fertile ground what makes a
place be so open and maybe how where you see Portland in that now it’s a big
question wow I got a big question you know I think I was involved in a lot of
those commercials in the 90s I worked for McKinnon and saunas that was a sort
of leading house in specifically puppet-making for you know we were we
were working for many different agencies and filmmaking companies and short film
studios and kids TV so and I think a lot of the sort of the openness and
tradition of stop-motion animation in England actually comes from the
children’s television telling stories to kids and educating kids from an early
age BBC television was a leading force in telling wonderful preschool sort of a
showing sort of education through stop-motion animation and telling great
great stories so from that hub of I mean you know Britain is very are based as
well it’s a tradition in in in the British Isles that goes back millions of
years of show you know telling history through art drawing creating a sort of a
learning technique through visual communication and I think you know
telling stories and educating through stop-motion animation it’s just
modern day stepping and you know taking that historical thread and and telling a
great story so we you know that’s I think we definitely excels in Great
Britain with stop-motion kids TV commercials and and then a lot of
feature work came our way as well because we had such a consistent flow of
of sort of actually making really high-end stop-motion films and
everything that we we were asked to sort of become a part of some of these larger
projects across the world now it’s interesting because when I was at
cosgrove hall and McKinnon and Saunders I heard about what was going on in
Portland Oregon I didn’t even know where Portland Oregon was at the time but I
heard that there was the same sort of traditional art form being used to sort
of tell stories in experimental and literal animated ways and you know it
was interesting because we got to work for vinton studio way back there 20
years ago making some head mechanics for a show that Brad probably animated and
you know coming to Portland I recognize the Portland’s very open to
the arts it’s such a creative City Oregon itself is such an inspiring you
know the country here I get inspired every day so the fact that we make
beautiful visuals we tell stories to a visual way does not surprise me and it’s
amazing because it kind of reminds me sometimes of home in a weird way being
here so yeah I think both both you know England as a whole and Portland Oregon
we we found this visual storytelling sort of art form and we’ve stuck with it
and we’ve created really thriving industries through it that is the
question I think so I think it I think it is I mean that that whole idea of
sticking with it it’s like you all have like worked together for a long time and
it’s like there’s something going right you can keep like a core of creatives
working together they seem fairly happy right Brian
I want to just I I keep hearing different numbers on this but one of the
things that I heard the other day was 1 million expressions it’s like okay
that’s not a Brian that’s or yeah I just want to know a little bit about and I
know that you’ve probably said this but probably everyone hasn’t heard this just
like how do you manage that for animators and then the other question is
how do you decide what expressions okay well I’m known as the one who talks
a lot so buckle your seats sorry this is gonna be a long explanation so yeah for
each one of our films we continue to advance how many facial expressions each
character can do and you probably have heard the number it’s well in the
millions for some of our lead characters now we don’t actually produce millions
of faces what we do is we we produce thousands of eyebrow shapes and we
produce thousands of mouth shapes and they’re printed is two separate objects
and the animator has the ability to swap them out independently so when you
multiply the eyebrow shapes by the mouth shapes you get I think Kubo had
something like 54 million possible facial expressions so now we again print
54 million faces but each face on the back has a very unique number stamped on
the back and that number tells the animator what expression that is and
what frame that needs to go on for the film to me it looks a little bit like
alphabet soup I don’t know how the animators know exactly what they’re
reading but there’s some indications of what that expression is and in years
past on Coraline we were really just focused on animators being able to pick
mouth shapes that made it look like she was saying a line of dialogue so it was
all about making sure that we had the correct phonemes and the phone Emmy is
an expression that your mouth makes to say syllables and vowels T’s V’s s’s
and if you take that base those base building blocks of phonemes you can put
them in different orders in a character can look like they’re saying any line
but over the course of our movies we’ve continued to try to add more and more
expressivity into these emotional or any of these uh these faces so that’s why
we’ve ended up producing so many thousands of faces and so many millions
of faces thank you ollie I’m gonna come back to you again in terms of the
subtlety that Brian was talking about you also work on visual effects and you
just got an Oscar nomination for the the visual effects for Kubo actually yeah so
talk to me a little bit I was watching ParaNorman again last night and I
remember the special effects and to me it looked like they were like drawn or
something it was it had a different quality can you talk a little bit about
what makes visual effects different at Leica from what we usually see from
Hollywood so yeah so the we have a really great visual effects team so
there are there’s a lot of digital work that goes into our movies some of them
some of it is expanding the horizon making our worlds bigger some of it is
digital extension of characters we have background characters they’re digital
and then some of them are things that you know are explosions a smoke effect
some of our water that’s digital – but instead of taking reality’s the
touchstone the digital team takes what we produce in the studio as the starting
point for all their works so what we do is create kind of mechanisms and
prototypes and dioramas that the digital team digital team can then use as either
influenced or straight copy and turn into a digital version to work across
the movie so for things like in Kubo for the waves we produced like five or six
different working prototypes of paper that looked like waves or we produced a
kind of like a spider II kind of mechanism that pushed and undulated
black saran wrap and things like that so we always trying to go back to the tact
always comes back to the stop-motion even when it ends up being a digital
asset in the end one of the cool things with ParaNorman was Ollie but so the
cloud you know the the clouds were all you know ultimately digital but they
started off practically there so one of the one of the elements that kind of
runs through the film is bridalveil sort of tooled material and Ollie had made
this big wheel of clouds that we animated on set to see what kind of you
know if we could do the clouds practically and they were great and you
got they with the light going through them we could see what they look like
practically and they look beautiful but the problem was as we animate and then
they sort of they popped around a little bit so we were able to give that to the
visual effects department across the street and they were able to copy that
tool looking material but they were able to get all the vaporous qualities of
clouds that we couldn’t get on stage so it had the feeling of that tactility you
know of stop-motion but being done in the computer and something goes well
with aggi that was a there was a lot of drawn verse for the for the electricity
that was in the hair and stuff like that that eventually becomes CG and Brian
maybe you could talk a little bit like Agee Hera she was a kind of a hybrid
character in a sense and that was at first yeah Agee was a unique character
because a lot of her kinetic energy around her was all being done based off
of blown ink drawings so it did have a very 2d feel but that was put on with
the visual effects Department but her faces as you guys for those of you have
gone around the exhibit you’ll see there’s a sampling of her faces that
were 3d printed and we printed all the faces for that particular for those
sequences and we would project light through the back and this was the first
time we were actually not only animating the outside of the face and now she’s
screaming and changing changing facial expressions we were also animating the
thickness of that material so as the light was projecting through it you’ve
got this great sense of kinetic energy and power Wow it’s really great for you
guys just chime in on this okay because this really it really shows you know
it’s like it’s not just one department that you all are talking to each other
and sharing like the innovation sparking off each other no just bet say
yet the whole the whole sense of puppetry you know George actually makes
the puppets but there’s you know there’s Brad that’s team that’s animating the
puppets and we were rigging the puppet so and so it’s like this whole thing and
it’s a real dialogue yeah we couldn’t we couldn’t do it without anybody else
around yeah but that gets back to that like I feel like there’s this core of
people that that are working it’s a couple of ways to go here but I want to
Deb I want to get you back in on it in Kubo there you do research on all of
your all the films on costuming and whatnot but I think the Google took you
especially into Japanese culture there’s a term that wabi-sabi is that how you
said anyway it’s it’s PR materials but they’re talking about this beauty in
imperfection so yes what I want to just ask you to talk about just a little bit
is you’re making and have you guys seen this have you seen the panels or you see
like the fabrics it’s like what Brian was saying you can’t just go to the
store and buy a pair of denim jeans and cut it up because the scale is going to
expose that and it’s gonna look like a big burlap bag then they use silk so
figuring out what these materials are but the other thing is that they look so
exquisite and yet it’s gotta be so durable
it’s like months on a set with hands all over it so how do you how do you get to
that you know it’s sort of like perfect but really imperfect I guess there is a
lot of research not just about the history of the culture especially in
Kubo but a lot of research goes into the kind of fabrics that we can use as you
were saying some off-the-shelf fabrics are bought in
first two films for Coraline and ParaNorman we did use those more and
they were just customized but as we’ve moved forward with boxtrolls and Kubo we
we’ve got more into engineering our own fabrics that are specifically for our
use so the properties that we need that we could hunt forever in an
off-the-shelf fabric that we would never find we are now trying to build those
for ourselves with new techniques and engineering some of the things that are
used across the board in other departments but also unique ones just a
costume so they’re invested with that move ability and property that we need
just for just for animation so we’ve moved forward from using realistic
fabrics to for example in egg egg sweater it used the line work of the
movies artwork to look like a knitted sweater so that was actually achieved by
using different weight threads dyed different shades of green on a very
stretchy backing and we might look at maybe 20 or 30 different backings to
find the right property and then creating the line work from the thread
in the stitching so it looks like a sweater and if you see in the exhibition
it looks like a sweater being comparison to the one for Coraline it’s a very very
different beast and that’s the evolvement there we’ve taken the the
line we’ve been able to take with the success of the films is really given us
a platform to be able to work more specifically for her animation
I think what’s always really difficult for what Deborah’s team has got to do
they’ve got a kind of it they’ve got to attain what is and a you know a look and
a style but they’ve also got to get it to perform and it’s got Italy animatable
and there’s like with Kubo sleeves I remember Brad used to having a pretty
good story about how how difficult that was to achieve and what you had to do to
get there yeah I remember I had a lot of sleepless nights about that
before before we before we hit stage you know we had numerous versions and Deb
and Deb’s and and her team were creating versions of the costume and then they
were beautiful and they moved elegantly but there there were there were some
things with it the sleeves were wired and you know with a team of 35 animators
ultimately it needed to do the same thing and when Kubo put his arms by his
side there was wire around the cuff and you’d
have to sculpted you’d have to bend the sleeves to do a particular shape and the
odds of all 35 doing the same thing it wasn’t great so so I went to Devon and
and we started a dialogue and we started talking and I thought you know it would
be great if if every time he put his arms down it did the same thing and
Deb’s had a terrific idea you know origami as a theme throughout the film
and and she thought what if we took more of an origami approach to the costume
and created this prototype which changed everything and it was it was exactly
what we wanted up doing and it was amazing he’s a perfect form follows
function yeah it took a lot of Engineering to get
there dinner I can’t tell you how many versions we did piles and piles of them
but it got there in the end and the things that you end up using are
actually quite simple they’re all familiar materials it’s just again it’s
knowing the properties and the combinations of them so we went through
many many different iterations and the one that ended up being the most elegant
actually had the most simple solution but it’s just it’s just getting there
and and again for the for the amount of duplication that we need to do we need
to do 30 or 35 costumes finding a way of doing that we know you do a an awful lot
of research and a lot of playing around but it’s the Edit at the end that really
can as it makes it that elegant and that simple looking it’s interesting as well
because while this is going on this narrative is going on around there’s
we’re trying to build the puppet that’s what I was going well exactly no we
as the puppet building team we’re making the you know the skeleton the body that
goes inside the costume and you can’t have a costume on a puppet that’s not
connected so all of these decisions are affecting the build of the internal
skeleton which we call an armature so the armature you know essentially you
almost need the costume serve as a finished piece to inform you as to how
you’re going to build the armature but that’s not the way it works you’ve got
to be own so we’re doing a lot of tests and basically what Deb’s and Brad are
doing are informing us what we have to add on to the armature because these
things have to be controllable yeah and a perfect example of that with with Kubo
because you know there’s a reason you’ve never seen baggy clothes and a
stop-motion film before because it’s a nightmare so with with Kubo he had these
baggy sleeves and when they when his arms went to his side or when they stuck
out the top of his arm and it didn’t give it real-world weight so we got
together with George and ultimately what they wound up doing was put in an extra
joint on there was attached to essentially the tricep of the character
and so it came off the character’s off Kubo’s arm traveled down the sleeve and
connected to the front of the sleeve so you could pull it down and give it
real-world weight make it feel like real-world weight when his arm missed
his side or sticking out in front of him a little join and some wire we actually
I wish it was that simple have you guys seen those those angle
poison lamps that’s actually it’s sort of a bendy it’s called goose neck
because it looks like a goose is neck like a microphone stand yes so we
realized that the animators need more control than just a wire and a wires
gonna break so we actually find found miniaturized goose neck which we then
attach to the joint so that it could have more control for Brad’s team and
always stay in the position the animator put it rather than springing back up
it’s interesting to sit back and look at all the technology that we’ve used over
the course of our movies and we sit here oftentimes and talk about all we came up
with this great technical solution or that great technical solution but so
much of those technical solutions are absolutely driven by the creative needs
for the film and it’s fun to sort of look back and say oh why did we choose
that technology because this we needed to figure out a way to make the
character perform like this so we needed to figure out a way to make the
character look like this and that’s the fun thing about like is each one of our
characters is unique each one of our characters has probably at least a dozen
little inventions that we’ve had to figure out along the way some even more
than that to make them work so that’s that’s the fun thing I think we do talk
about technology that we use but it’s so much is driven by the creative I wanna
at you to hear but anybody else can jump in let’s talk a little bit about
aesthetic choices you’re talking about the film is calling for I guess there’s
another way of saying that is possibly an aesthetic choice I’m thinking of the
3d printing and I’m thinking of puppets Georgina puppets are by in sort of
inherently stiff and you guys have the squash and stretch quality that that
comes out but I want to talk about the facial expressions and the 3d rapid
prototyping that there are choices that are made there I think you think back of
Juri trinka and the hand that puppet face has hardly any not a lot of
expressions animal ISA was recently out made a decision they’re using
replacement replacement parts but they kept the seam can you talk a little bit
about what you guys went through to come to these aesthetic choices sure so we
back on Coraline over 11 years ago we made a decision to try and take this
hundred-year-old technique of replacement animation and try to fuse it
with 21st century 3d printing technology and at the time we were the first studio
to ever do this and the idea was simple we were going to take something that
used to be hand sculpted I don’t know how many of you guys have seen the film
Nightmare Before Christmas but Jack Skellington is a perfect example of a
replacement animated character where he had 800 hand sculpted faces that were
reused over and over again for that film for for our film Coraline we knew that
we wanted Coraline to have a huge emotional range we needed her to be able
to be very subtle and tender in certain moments and really scared at others so
replacement animation gives you the best of both worlds and we didn’t know how we
were gonna hire a team of so many sculptors to do this which is why we
came up with this idea of 3d printing so by 3d printing we were able to harness
the power and the subtlety of a computer because basically we’re animating in the
computer just the faces and then we’re sending that facial geometry to a 3d
printer that produces them as a physical object so Leica’s desire is to
constantly try to find ways that we can make our characters perform in ways that
stop-motion has never been able to achieve before and that’s from the
rigging to the costumes to the armature to the way the animators breathe life
into them so everything about our style is to try to come up with really
naturalistic styles that are redefining what people think of as stop-motion and
that is more more that’s very true in the faces there’s definitely a lot of a
lot of emphasis on performance there’s a lot of emphasis on acting so we will
present different facial performances to the director in CG they’re just seeing a
little floating head talk and they’ll go back and give very specific notes on we
want that character to know a few frames earlier we want them to sneer or we
wanted to get really sad and start to feel like he’s gonna well up and for the
first time in stop-motion we have the ability to go back in and bake those
performances into the 3d printed parts but to answer your question about the
line this is a funny story on Coraline I told you guys I talked a lot on Coraline
there was a we had bisected the face in the top and the bottom and Henry Selick
who was the director of Coraline wasn’t sure if he
wanted to delete that line if he wanted to have that seam line erased so he put
out a vote to the crew and asked them to vote on whether or not we should remove
the line and he got all these responses back and one of the best responses was I
think we should leave the line because the name of the movie is Coraline after
all we did decide to erase the line normally one of these guys does a little
drumroll at that but they were out of sync we’ve heard it too many times Brian
some of these guys have already heard me say that once today what I find amazing
about what Brian’s team is doing is that Usain riding on the wave or something of
rapid prototyping but really that trailblazing because they always trying
to do something that the technology isn’t quite up to speed with and so you
take something like Coraline where you used to use painting every face
independently and then put in a freckle on and things like that and I just think
maybe he took about I’d have the process of and the technologies caught up with
our desires yeah so on Coraline we had to hand paint every single freckle every
single lip every single eyebrow it was really laborious so we had really broken
through with this amazing performance potential but we were constantly needing
to go back to the director and negotiate with them of how much detail they could
put into the the paint on a character’s face so starting on ParaNorman we
decided that we were going to take this really successful process in this
successful technology and basically throw it out the window and put all of
our eggs in this basket of new color 3d printing and there was only one color 3d
printer around the market so we were literally were hedging our bets on
untested technology and to Ali’s point this these 3d printers were designed to
make prototypes they were designed to produce something that looked somewhat
decent that ultimately that part was going to end up being produced out of
plastic or out of rubber and manufactured somewhere else in the world
so they were really just there as a prototyping machine but what we were
trying to do is we were trying to make them our final product so we were
demanding that these machines found these crazy colors that the manufacturer
said wasn’t possible for them this is outside the printers game
and it was I think it was a lot of being naive a lot of us just trying to trying
to hammer these machines to do things that they didn’t think possible that
allowed us to suddenly stumble across them some things and looking back on it
if we had approached it differently if we could approach it more scientifically
we would have gotten bogged down in the weeds but because we were going very
specifically for this creative look we just continue to if we wanted that
particular read we just started throwing all these different colors at the
machine and finally we got a red and it actually was orange on the computer
screen but a prints red so great well we’ll go that way yeah and I you know I
think we all applaud Brian as well because like I’m ParaNorman when we did
the shift from the resin printer to the color powder printer it did not work
like it was not those faces were not working and I’m sure there are a lot of
stress the sleepless nights for Brian as we got I remember that first test the
first Neal test that we did you know and it was cool because Coraline had you
know six freckles on each side they could all be hand-painted and then you
had Neal that had hundreds of freckles on each side of his face but I remember
that first test that worked and it was it was it looked terrible no the first
one that worked great that’s the thing about like it is that we are given so
much freedom to try and fail and we’ve all talked about you know Deb’s 30
different fabrics or 30 different costume or liners 29 of them had to fail
before we found the one that works and I think that back on so many of these
things if we had the producer or the directors banging on her office door
saying how’s it going how’s it going is it fixed yet or is it figured out yet we
would not be nearly as successful they they give us the opportunity they let us
work together and they sit back and I think they’re probably having sleepless
nights hoping that we’re gonna figure it out yeah this is great this is my last
question I want to end up with with you Brad and then I’m gonna open it up to
the audience based on what you were saying and thank you ollie for opening
that up and thank you Brian it’s it’s this thing that you’re given this
opportunity here but being around Portland for a long time I think there’s
a feeling in town among the animators that you could do whatever you could
take a lot of risks and you could take a form of
animation maybe that hadn’t really been used in a sort of professional or high
calibre way and try to try to bring that you’ve been in Portland for a while what
makes I mean partly it’s it’s like itself is there anything though from the
the city the community the place that it is that also supports that idea of and
makes it different than Hollywood I guess you know I mean I mean what we do
is very special that I mean Portland itself is a very artistic City it has a
great art community here and I think there’s and there’s a demeanor to the
city which is is I don’t want to say laid-back but it but it allows artists
to be artists without the without that aggressive competitive edge that Los
Angeles or Hollywood has you know and I think that the you know I moved here
ninety eight to work on to work at whooping studios to work on the PJs and
even back then you just there was a there’s almost like a support from the
city like a confidence that you get just from being here a just an inherent
comfortableness of being able to take chances of being able to do things
different and and it’s been that way from when it was you know from when it
was wolf in the studio’s to 100 you know to know it like and it’s it’s nice and
we and we can do things without the pressure of of Hollywood without the
pressure of you know aggressive you got to get it done you gotta get done and
it’s it’s special it’s hard to put it you know to verbalize it into words
yet you’re getting the Oscar nominations right up there yeah it’s the word like
is Russian for little Barker or noise from an unexpected place so even that
idea of us being up in Portland Oregon and making an impact at least I think
that’s true somebody can verify that that’s a good sorry Louis I think
independence is like the really strong part of what we do independence of the
studio or independent is like in terms of making stop motion is on the outside
of and looking in and also just being in Portland as well just you know there’s
you know people riding around on six-foot you know unicycles there’s a
lot of independence here as well so I think there’s there’s a lot of synergy
with the studio and mics yeah yeah okay let’s stop let’s open it up
thank you guys hearing you say corpse bride I remember
watching that and just being blown away by the Cape and like learning about it
it’s like your industry has heart and there’s not a lot of heart in other
places that I see and you can feel the love resonating off these characters
that you guys are producing and I just want you to know that I feel it it’s
like Jim Henson but way more like in tuned and I just want you guys to know
it really touches my heart a lot and brings my inner child a lot of happiness
thank you thank you a little question the faces on the
sisters why do they carry masks and why do they have masks on their faces I mean
their faces are beautiful when they take them off there’s like some scars but
maybe there was something I missed when I watched that movie but I was just
thinking yeah I don’t think you ever see their full faces I think the the the
masks were giving it a very spooky element and they were there in the early
character design and I was very excited because great we don’t need to make
faces for that character you never see any facial and my painters are very
excited because they painted those masks and it was actually based on a
traditional art form Japanese art form which you might want to know no theater
masks ancient Japanese noh theater and they’re very haunting and very
ghost-like and that’s why they were selected for those characters and the
fact that their mouths don’t move but the voices come out is very very eerie
and quite unusual for stop frame as well after the efforts Bryant goes to make
for pitching a character that talks in the mouth doesn’t move and we were so
excited about it because it gets everything we do it’s interesting sorry
Brian they’re my favorite puppets ever made but the power that emits from those
characters those two sisters when I see them on the screen I’m hiding behind my
sofa you know they are search they’re so intimidating because we just
we’re so used to a human face moving and visually you know it’s communicating
even through your eyes and these things are just nothing thank you all so much
for what you do these are instant classics they are in our home I know
they offer for so many I’ve always wondered
has this ever happened you get to the end of creating making a movie you all
sit down you all watch it and somebody goes I really want to reshoot that one
scene because the sleeve or the face or like if we shot it from this side when
it’d be great and if that happens do you all say I’m really sorry I’m done with
our contract or do you actually have to reset things up I mean I think it’s when
we’re done with each project we have an opportunity so you
know the the shooting schedule is over we’ll go through like I know I’ll go
through and you know we always try to do a certain amount of reshoots you know
typically for me I’ll look through things that are performance-based things
that sort of remind me that take me out of the movie because it reminds me that
I’m watching a puppet and at a and it pulls me out of the story the director
will look at it from a different reason the producer will look at it from a
different reason and they compare those notes ultimately it’s the directors call
which which one which shots we reshoot but there’s always a chunk of eight to
twenty reshoots that we wind up doing but once those are done I think we all
feel very good with with the final product and then try to grow on the next
one you know style wise and the way that it’s set up at our studio is there’s
before you get to shoot a shot there’s a block through of that shot there’s a
rehearsal of that shot so it’s all about trying to get everything in place and
make those decisions or changes of mind before you actually get to shooting the
shot for real so because it’s a very time consuming you know process to have
to reshoot reshoot I was just gonna say I think the you know it’s it’s a
time-based medium and there is a kind of theater
theater to it and the you know the animators are our actors and I think
that’s where a lot of the love comes from is that we don’t massage the love
out of it we don’t you know identify every pixel that’s wrong with it we let
the kind of the beauty is definitely embracing the imperfections and yeah I
see some costume elements sometimes yeah we all we all have that that you know
it’s it it’s in services there are always things
I like doing Lego stop-motion animation cuz it’s really easy to do and there’s
all the facial expressions already laid out and me and my brother like doing
Lego animation and we were and he’s not here right now cuz he’s sick but I was
just wondering would you recommend clay animation over Lego animation or or
which one do you think is easier you can do that it’s not easy is that I’m not an
animator but I grew up absolutely in love with claymation that was what got
me into this business and also taught me that I’m not an animator I don’t have
the patience to do it so that’s why I like replacement animation because it
you can just take something that’s already animated and stick it on and it
looks great so I’ll kick that over to Brad because you’ve done both yeah I’ve
done both I you know I did clay animations and and as a kid and in
school and didn’t even think to do but we didn’t have a little Lego guys when I
was when I was a kid we didn’t have a little Lego guys Lego we’re the blocks
but we didn’t have the guys and and it depends what you want to do I think the
Legos are awesome and I think you know if you want to do something with a clay
character if you want to get it try to try to manipulate a character to look
like it’s talking or turning from a you know a person into a monster or it’s you
know clay is a fun thing to to toy around with and I encourage you to do
both of them yes makes it I’m gonna say do it both in shop yeah that’s the
beauty of it you know that’s what how we think about things we don’t we’re not
kind of limited by either or we we have to take every kind of little moment and
we mix it all up and that’s how you make something new yes innovation and a
little trick of the trade if if you’re doing some clay animation don’t be
afraid to put a little wire skeleton inside it to hold the clay up because
the clay might start to sag of its own accord and all the animators put little
armatures inside their clay so top tip thanks for being here in
so much awesome wisdom and knowledge that’s really cool kind of seeing you
guys have this energy as you’re discussing it’s just amazing and even
though you talk a lot I really like it so just just to me my questions mainly
for Georgina but it’s just kind of like what creative supervisor means to you
kinda what that entails and I guess the second part just being how do you
determine how to divide your attention between departments and your team and
keep that collaboration and communication going that’s a really good
question because I’m glad that we’re bringing up the crew around us because
you know we’re we’re sort of one two three four five
we’re key people like her but it’s the crew that make the work that you know
you see out there and I have an amazing team that grew from initially 25 people
when I first started on Coraline 285 at the mat you know in our latest movie and
my job I see my job as being the conduit of information you know I get the ear of
the director the head of animation I you know every day can deal with the people
you’re seeing up on stage here making sure that I can try and get as much
information to the team so that they can do the best job possible you know as a
creative supervisor I hardly get to make any more which it saddens me because I
made puppets for 20 years but that knowledge of making puppets for 20 years
is what allowed me to basically facilitate my crew with the tools the
information that they need to do their job and you know there’s they’re
superstars there they’re artists though and they are in their comfort zone when
they’re doing their one little thing at their desk and at times they forget that
they’ve got to talk to the person next to them or pass the puppet off to the
next department so you know that it’s my job to make sure that they’re thinking
ahead and they’ve got the information for the moment in hand yeah so and I’m
sure everybody the rapid prototype teams about 65 to 70 people so it’s huge
and it’s grown from I think around 2025 on Coraline I think there is about five
costume makers on Coraline now that’s around 18 fabricators but we also have a
massive support team of coordinators around us as well that create all of
that interaction and organize us every day to impart everything we know and
help things help things run smoothly and we have about ten riggers that are
servicing kind of on average like three animators each so they’re part of a the
onstage team so they’re working with the cameraman the set dressers the animators
and all the stage crew like eighties and stuff like that so that’s a whole big
kind of ensemble hello what was the hardest like scene to do in Kubo giant
skeleton yeah the monkey boom beast hit the fight on the boat you know they were
they were they were all hard on Kubo and I hate the United I hate to say that
they but they were like any one of these of these things on Kubo and another film
would have been you know the thing on that movie to be the hardest thing and
we had six of them the thing that was really interesting about walking around
this exhibit is seeing the Coraline garden for the first time in almost a
decade and seeing how beautiful that set was and but how scary that set was to
build that was the thing that I think concerns so many people on Kubo’s are
Coraline is how we’re going to build this Magic Garden and we I feel like
every single one of our films has three dozen of those right in the skeleton
it’s the skeleton that’s in the exhibit is the skeleton that was in the film and
so we had one animator that was on you know it was mostly broken in half so it
was cut at the way so you’d see the rib cage and have the arms and the head
and it was on a hexapod which is kind of it’s what you would see on a flight
simulator or an amusement park ride so you could control the twist the tilt
back and forth the side-to-side with this jog box like this these dials that
were made up and then an animator is up there on the scaffolding moving these
arms you know with his head you know with his hand it was nuts and you know
like normally normally we’re moving things that are you know a fraction of a
millimeter and Charles is up there trying to animate this skeleton and you
know sometimes his movements are this big it just doesn’t seem right to move
it the head far but really in scale it was only about this big it’s funny
because in that scene the skeleton was consistently holding the monkey which
was our biggest challenge because animators to start with when you say a
fully furry animal and you’re gonna animate it they run out the door they’re
like no we are not animating for so we’d spent all this time overcoming how we
were going to make an animated furry monkey and then you don’t even notice
the monkey in the big huge skeletons and I don’t think Charles even once worried
about the fur on the monkey it was like oh my god how am I gonna make this
skeleton what would be your future dream animation project Wow non-disclosure society I know we
haven’t gone into space yet I would say something you know with one room no
dialogue for me though definitely the one room and the one character hi it’s
very great for you guys to be here I’m really thankful you guys are I mean it I
don’t want to exaggerate when I say you guys are pretty much a perfect animation
studio you guys have top technology top artists I believe you guys contribute to
what I believe we’re still in the animation Renaissance I have a two-part
question one how do you decide on choosing a story and saying this is a
story that deserves be told in this animation styling can’t be told in other
animation styles or in our style and my second part is that well I’m an animator
myself I’m a stop-motion animator I work with clay what are the really hard parts
I’ll have to go through what our stuff what are the scariest parts of going
through and how do I go through that like whether it’s financial things or
people like major audiences not understanding your work I mean do you
only the first one is it’s really story based it’s always story and I don’t
think we kind of we there’s obviously there’s a this as an aesthetic that we
were drawn to but we don’t shy away from what should be a stop-motion movie I
mean remember just like when Henry Selick first started talking about this
with us he would always be like if it’s done like this we want stop-motion we
want it to do that so we would never shy away from a challenge we never say well
that’s not really something that we should be doing and then you want a the
second half yeah you know I think you know doing play you know doing clay
animations doing films any films for that matter I think that you’re putting
yourself out there in a vulnerable place so you start to do something that you
believe in that you think is cool that you think is funny that you think is
scary whatever it happens to be and it’s such a long process
and I can just tell you from from my experience in film school and whatnot
you know I would start these projects that I thought were we’re cool that I
was really into and it takes so long to do them that about halfway through you
lose all objectivity and you’re not you know think it’s is this really funny is
this really something that people are gonna like I’m never gonna get this done
I remember going through a thing and I remember calling my mom my second year
in grad school and crying you know I’m not gonna get this thing done she goes
you know you always do that you always get through this face and you
always get it done but but I think you know I it’s it’s all very hard and it’s
all it’s it’s a risk that I think that we’ve all taken yeah that I think is
important in growing as an artist and becoming who you want to be as an artist
and really I would say you know it stop-motion animation isn’t easy in any
I think in any of our specialized areas but that is the joy of it as well
because when you overcome a sort of a problem day-in day-out but when you see
something come to life on the screen and tell a beautiful story it’s worth well
but yet it isn’t easy every day hi so at what point in like either any of your or
individual or sort of like mutual career at Leica do you look at a project and
you not go oh dear god what have I done I’m so in over my head and and I’m never
gonna finish it like are you there yet there’s been four days when I haven’t
been there I think it’s been the release of each one of our films exactly I think
those two questions are connected there’s a lot of sleepless nights but
there’s a lot of energy to get up in the morning and go to work and try to solve
the problem it’s a good balance so yeah sheer terror and sheer excitement
all right I think we’ll wrap it up on that note let’s give a big round of
applause thanks you

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